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What Is Premises Liability and Who Is Responsible?

What Is Premises Liability and Who Is Responsible?

A premises liability accident, where you suffer an injury on someone else’s property, can turn your life upside down. If the owner of the place where you suffered your injury was at fault for the accident, you might be eligible to file a premises liability claim for compensation. Many types of premises liability claims are possible, depending on circumstances.

What Is Premises Liability?

In the personal injury context, a succinct premises liability definition is, “The liability that the owner (or occupier) of land bears for an injury that someone suffers because of an unsafe condition on their property.” Every state’s premises liability law is slightly different, and Indiana premises liability law includes its own unique features. Since premises liability injuries are common occurrences, premises liability claims are also common.

The owner of premises does not bear unlimited liability. They are liable only for preventable accidents. There are also practical limits to premises liability, such as the amount of insurance a business or homeowner has. Fortunately, most businesses carry substantial insurance to defray liability, and most homes are covered by homeowner's insurance in all but the most unusual circumstances.

Most Common Types of Premises Liability Cases

Some of the common types of premises liability cases include:

  • Slip and fall accidents;
  • Crimes that occur because of inadequate security;
  • Dog bites by unrestrained dogs.

These are not the only type of premises liability claims that accident victims frequently assert.

The Four Elements of Premises Liability

Most legal claims break down into a few discrete elements that you must prove to win your claim. The four premises liability elements that you must prove to win your claim are:

  • The defendant was the property owner or occupier at the time of the injury. A business owner who merely leases the property from, say, a shopping mall, can still bear premises liability. For the sake of simplicity, the term “owner” is used herein to include both owners and occupiers, such as lessees.
  • The defendant’s care and maintenance of the property were negligent (negligence means roughly “carelessness”). The defendant might have broken a safety law or regulation, but the victim can establish negligence even without proving such a violation.
  • The victim suffered a tangible injury. If so, they might also claim damages for intangible injuries such as mental anguish or pain and suffering.  
  • The defendant’s negligence caused the victim’s injury.

If the defendant bears liability for dangerous premises, the next step is typically settlement negotiations. Premises liability settlements sometimes involve large amounts of compensation.

Proof in a Premises Liability Case  

Premise liability cases are personal injury cases. To prove a personal injury claim, you must prove that the property owner owed you a duty of care. The circumstances dictate the likelihood of a premises liability settlement and if the victim files a lawsuit, the likely outcome of a premises liability lawsuit settlement.

Legal Status of a Visitor

The duty that an owner of premises owes to a visitor depends on the visitor’s status, as outlined below.

Invitees

A premises liability invitee can be a business visitor who comes in response to an invitation issued by the property’s owner, or a customer who comes in response to a general invitation by a business such as a department store that is open to the public. A property owner must protect an invitee against dangers that they know about or would discover through a reasonable inspection of the property.

Licensees

A licensee is someone who enters the owner’s or occupier’s property with permission, but for their purposes. This might be a friend who drops by unannounced, a city worker digging a municipal water main, etc. The owner must protect a licensee against dangers of which they are aware

Trespassers

Premises liability coverage can extend even to certain types of trespassers. Different types of trespassing lead to different legal consequences.

Intentional Harm

The owner of land may not use intentional harm (such as a lethal ‘booby trap”) to repel a trespasser. They may use “justifiable force” for this purpose (a barbed wire fence, for example).

Children

Children represent a special case, because a child might not be aware that they are trespassing, and because children of different ages have different levels of cognitive ability. The owner can bear liability for injuries to children from something like a swimming pool that is classified as an “attractive nuisance” if:

  • The owner knew or should have known that children might trespass (land next to an elementary school, for example);
  • The “attractive nuisance” could cause death or serious injury;
  • The child was too young to recognize the danger;
  • The utility of the “attractive nuisance” to the owner was small compared to the danger to the child;
  • The owner failed to exercise reasonable care to mitigate the danger of the condition.  

Constant Trespassing and Actual Knowledge

The owner owes a duty of care when they know of frequent trespassing on their land (as a shortcut, for example). Sometimes only a warning, such as a “Beware of Dog” sign, is required. They must also exercise care when conducting operations on their land when they know that a trespasser is present.

The Owner’s Duty of Care

The degree of an owner’s duty of care is highly circumstantial. Consider the following examples:

  • A mail carrier slips and breaks their hip on a homeowner’s icy porch.
  • A grocery store customer slips and falls on a floor that was wet because a child spilled a drink on the floor five minutes before the accident.
  • A chair collapses and injures a 300-pound man who sits in it.
  • An accidental trespasser suffers a dog bite wound because they cannot speak English and could not read a “Beware of Dog” sign.

Stracci Law Group knows every case is unique, and there are few (if any) “bright-line rules” that define liability.

Negligence

Indiana’s negligence rules seek to compensate victims for injuries caused by the wrongful but unintentional harm that someone else causes. Someone who runs a stop sign, for example, probably did not intend to injure anyone. They might bear liability for the accident, however, despite their lack of malicious intent. The liability of someone who deliberately caused a car accident in a fit of “road rage” would go beyond mere negligence.

Comparative Fault

What if you were partly at fault for your injuries? It is likely that the insurance company will at least try to pin some of the blame onto you. Suppose, for example, that you were running through a grocery store and slipped on an unmarked wet floor.

In Indiana, you will lose whatever proportion of your damages that the court attributes to your fault. If you were 25% at fault, for example, you will lose 25% of your damages. If you were more than 50% at fault, you will receive no damages. In this case, you might even have to pay the other party’s damages.

Damages

To win a premises liability claim, you must prove that you suffered an injury. You can rely on your medical records, medical expert testimony, your own testimony, photographs of your injuries, etc. You can claim damages for medical expenses, lost earnings, pain and suffering, and other common elements of damages.

Causation

Causation is a necessary element of any personal injury claim. In many cases, you do not have to prove that the defendant was 100% responsible for your injuries. However, if the liable party is a government entity, a contributory fault is used as the standard rather than comparative, meaning that if the plaintiff is even 1% liable, compensation is not possible.

You have to prove that the defendant’s misconduct was substantially, or in the case of a government entity, entirely, responsible for your injuries. Even if the defendant was negligent, they might still escape liability if they can show that your accident would still have occurred, and would have been just as serious, even if they had exercised due care.  

Conclusion

Premises liability cases can get complex. Were you a licensee, an invitee, or a trespasser? Were you partly at fault? How much did you suffer in damages? The longer you wait to assert your claim, the weaker it will become.

If you have suffered a premises liability personal injury, you probably need a personal injury lawyer. You might also need a premises liability expert to reconstruct the accident and determine who was at fault. Don’t worry about how much all this will cost. If we don’t win your case, you won’t owe us any money. If we do win, you will owe us a pre-agreed percentage of whatever amount you win.

We Offer Decades of Combined Experience

As Northwest Indiana’s premier personal injury law firm, we offer our clients the following advantages:

  • Decades of successful trial experience. Our reputation in court encourages defendants to settle out of court.
  • Over 80 years of combined experience.
  • Thousands of successful case results.

Our lawyers have practiced in Indiana for their entire careers. We know most of the prosecutors, judges, and opposing lawyers. More than anything else, we know how the local system works, with all of its quirks.

Today Is the Day to Take Action

Call Stracci Law Group immediately at (219) 525-1000 or contact us online. We serve personal injury clients in Gary, Crown Point, Portage, Hammond, Merrillville, Valparaiso, and elsewhere in Northwest Indiana.

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It is a fact that personal injury cases of all kinds can be very expensive to litigate.  A law office needs to make countless calls to insurance adjusters

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